Here is an impressive clip from a new music video that shows the drastic affect lighting has on a person’s face. It’s dizzying! The same face completely changes form just by the light swinging around. I wish it was in slow-mo to see the effect up close.
I got excited about the video because it reminded me of something I read about the best Japanese Noh masks. On the wall they appear expressionless but on a performer and in motion the the mask comes alive. Light catches a hidden plain or a dark edge and the mask smirks, twitches, or frowns. Feel where those angles are, and you start to understand what that mask is capable of.
Whoa! Look at all these clowns. We all worked hard over the weekend to get ready for our public show next week. So far it’s impressively stupid in parts, in other parts head-slappingly ludicrous, and in still other parts it’s full hearted and funny. If you happen to be in or around Florence this Wednesday, Thursday or Friday, you’ll have to stop in and see us.
If you still can’t get enough, check out this interview from the New Victory Theater, with some clowns I met last summer in NYC at the Brick International Clown Theatre Festival. Enjoy reading what Billy and Summer say about this world of working clowns.
We’re wrapping up this year in school by diving headfirst into clown. It’s an ancient theatrical territory, subtle and personal, and when it’s working it crackles with joy and life.
Probably you’ve heard someone tell you they are scared of clowns. The rainbow wig, a terrible red grimace, smeared greasy face paint, cackling out a laugh with every breath. Clowns we all know seem to shout: everyone should be having fun all the time! I agree, that is pretty scary.
Most of our shared experience of clowns comes from pop culture. Krusty from the Simsons, Stephen King’s IT or the most evil of them all, Ronald McDonald. These guys are miles away from the clown work we do at school. They are devices that use the image of a clown to hide sinister motives barely hidden under that painted on smile.
All the clowns I look up to have less of the trappings of a clown. Charlie Chaplin, Lucille Ball or Mr. Bean don’t have wigs or face paint. But it’s fun to watch them fail so honestly and completely because they are ridiculously full hearted and imperfect characters. They may be full of themselves and short sighted but they are marvelously curious and completely affected by the world around them.
The director of my school says that an audience will treat clowns in one of three ways, they laugh, walk away or kill the clown. (Kill the clown? Sure! Think of the court jester who mocks the king a little too sharply, or more recently that weeble-wobbling BOZO punching bag that wont fall down.) Well, my latest clown is called Campbell Vann Damme. He’s a mind reader, a snake charmer and a complete idiot. As I’ve worked on him these past few weeks I’ve alternated between wanting to ignore him, wanting to kill him and falling down laughing playing him in improvisations with other clowns from my class.
In a way this clown is what is left after everything I use as a performer to connect to an audience is taken away. All that is left for poor Campbell is my instance on being out in front of an audience. Everything is gone except the plastic red-nose and me. “I deserve to be out here,” he says and I say at the same time.
A few weeks ago we performed a few public shows in half-masks. We had a photographer come, Stefano Borghi, and I just got the photos back. I’m happy to finally have something to share of the wild work I’ve been doing here the past months.
These first to are of me and my friend Anja Završnik in a piece we made called The Box or Identity Card. Rosie was expecting a nice vacation was stopped at the border by a very eager border agent. On the border the consequences are steep and decisions are made in an instant.
The night was full of tragic and funny short plays. A stolen crown, a dead cat, a deranged pizza man. This last photo is of the second piece I made with Cynthia Kneen, The High Wire. The mask work is over now and I’m on a two week vacation, when we all get back together we’ll jump into some of my favorite work from the first year, red nose clown. In the meantime, rest, relaxation, and anticipation!
My friend Kenny’s been back from his tours in Afghanistan for a while now. While he was there he sent me photos every now and then and I would post them on this blog. To close that series of posts I wanted to share these photos of Ken from a road trip he took to LA his friend Samimi took. They’re wonderful.
For a taste, compare the photo below to this one he sent me in 2010.
Read this excellent New Yorker profile on professional pickpocket Apollo Robbins. He’s a fascinating performer to watch. Here is a link to a video introducing his techniques.
What I particularly like about the profile is what he says about the choreography of people’s attention, a particularly important principal in telling stories or making theater. He says, “attention is like water. It flows. It’s liquid. You create channels to divert it, and you hope that it flows the right way.”
“It’s stepping outside yourself and seeing through the other person’s eyes, thinking through the other person’s mind, but it’s happening on a subconscious level.” He went on, “I can analyze how I do things, but the actual doing it—when the synapses just start firing—I can’t explain.”
“A lot of magic is designed to appeal to people visually, but what I’m trying to affect is their minds, their moods, their perceptions,” he told me. “My goal isn’t to hurt them or to bewilder them with a puzzle but to challenge their maps of reality.”
Challenging a person’s map of reality is a tall order. It necessarily means getting up close to your audience, and in a pickpocket’s case litterally encroaching on their personal space. Approaching a person head-on will make them immediately uncomfortable. “So, what I do is I give you a point of focus, say a coin. Then I break eye contact by looking down, and I pivot around the point of focus, stepping forward in an arc, or a semicircle, till I’m in your space.”
In this case the fixed point is the channel that diverts attention and allows the artist to swoop in undetected and get very close. Close enough to rifle around in the someone’s pocket and do some rearranging. “Not to hurt them or to bewilder them, but to challenge their maps of reality.”
Last week we dug in, got our hands dirty and started to make our own half masks. It was a rewarding process, but it isn’t done yet. We’ll show our first performances with them tomorrow. Matteo mentioned that making these masks has an element of alchemy. The shape you form in the clay transfers from material to material, from plaster to paper, then it transforms the actor’s body and if it’s good, it will finally arrive to the audience. Even if you think it’s a really good one, you don’t know if your proposal in clay will sustain a performance until you play it.
Making a plaster cast of your face helps keep your proportions accurate.
Comedy or tragedy? I don’t know, but I think he’s a republican.
Now we’re midway though the second term at school. These weeks are all about performing in half face mask. How do you play this technically demanding form of theater while bringing intuitive ease that makes the performance interesting to see? Finding the body and voice of the mask, improvising from that place and building up a piece that is true. If you’re prepared and lucky it can generate very funny and touching work.
Jenine describes the work very well on her website:
Dramatic depth can be found in the action of simple every day things. And it is in the action that the sentiment is revealed. The action is seen through very strict action and reaction with your co-players. A delicate dance of technique and sentiment – without one you don’t have the other. Although more often than not we’ll forgive lack of technique over sentiment. As Matteo says without sentiment your mask is nothing more than paper mache and elastic.
Bowhead whales were nearly hunted to extinction for their clean burning blubber. After the whale oil boom their population was estimated to be around one thousand individuals, but today they are doing much better. According to this article scientists “began recording whale numbers 34 years ago, [since then] their counts have increased from 1,200 animals in 1978 to 3,400 in 2011. From those numbers of whales seen, George estimates there are now 14,000 to 15,000 animals.”
This blog post from the Smithsonian points out that the best part of the article is that the whales can live up to 200 years. Which means there may be whales swimming in the arctic today that were born before Melvile wrote Moby Dick in 1851.
Scientists in Peru have discovered what they think may be a new species of spider which uses twigs and dead insects to build decoy spiders to trick predators.
Afterward, Torres returned to the trails near the research center. Only within a roughly 1-square-mile area near the floodplain did Torres find more spider-building spiders — about 25 of them. “They could be quite locally restricted,” he said. “But for all I know, there’s millions of them in the forest beyond.” The spiders’ webs were crafted around face-height, near the trail, and about the width of a stretched-out hand. Some of the decoys placed in the webs looked rather realistic. Others resembled something more like a cartoon octopus.